Over the last decade, Scandinavia has done a lot to keep filmmaking on the dark side of honest and original. Let the Right One In goosed the vampire genre enough to make it one of the most interesting films of the last few years; Dead Snow answered the question we all ask about zombies in winter and also managed to make two pretty tired tropes (zombies and undead Nazis) interesting at the same time; Troll Hunter managed to be frightening, hilarious, and absurd all in one delightful package. For this and other reasons, eager eyes were looking to What We Become to offer a Danish solution to total zombie saturation and overload.
What We Become focuses on a family and their neighbors, who find themselves in the center of a quarantine zone. An unknown—and basically unexplained—virus breaks out, and in a matter of hours the entire town is walled in and under martial law. People are not allowed to leave their houses, and the security forces are entering seemingly random homes and shooting them up. This is a pretty dire situation and one that anyone who has seen a zombie film has most likely seen before. Zombie films often work as an allegory for state-sanctioned massacre, and this one is no exception. The difference is how matter-of-factly director Bo Mikkelsen presents this mostly implied violence. An interesting choice, but one that doesn’t help the film as a whole.
The most interesting thing What We Become brings to the zombie party is a budding teen romance that is not approved by either sets of parents. Another Romeo and Juliet with zombies, if you will. The love-struck teens live across the street from each other, and the new curfew and army patrols only intensifies their forbidden love. Because that’s what happens with teenagers, I guess. As it goes with these things, eventually the families come under siege and must fight with everything they have to survive the oncoming horde of the infected.
The filmmakers make a few choices that offer some interesting moments among what is essentially a rehash of zombie film tropes. For the most part, this film offers nothing that you wouldn’t get in an episode of The Walking Dead, but there are some details that aficionados might appreciate and find rewarding. As cute as the teen love story is, it works as a distraction to leave audiences unprepared for the sudden and exceptionally mean choices that are made by their family members or for them. One scene in particular rivals The Mist for pure despair and hopelessness. There are also nods to Night of the Living Dead, rather than the many sequels and offshoots, which makes me wonder if Bo Mikkelsen and crew were hoping to erase the other several thousand zombie movies and video games that have been made since 1968.
Overall, the experience of the film is one of frustration. It tries to be one thing but spends too much time trying to be an exception. The counterpoints to the mind-numbing zombie tropes are too few to make an impact. As a result, the film essentially becomes another shambling corpse that can be ignored as an individual but is dreadful and completely horrifying when seen as part of an endless wave of rote creatures intent on chewing the life out of every functioning brain they come across.
Finally, to quote Glenn Danzig, “Why can’t we have a change of pace!”